When the Justice and Reconciliation Project’s Documentation team began working with the community of Odek in Gulu district in 2014, the sense was that the community wanted acknowledgment for the many violations they experienced during the war. As the ancestral home of LRA commander Joseph Kony, the area suffered the stigma of that association, and many there said that their experiences had been ignored over the years.
A similar feeling was held in Burcoro, a village in Awach sub-county, for survivors of an NRA operation where civilians, accused of being rebel supporters, were tortured, sexually violated, abducted and killed over the course of four days in April 1991.
So when this past week, the JRP’s Community Mobilisation department worked with those two communities to launch monuments to commemorate those experiences, it felt like the communities calls had come full circle.
In Odek, at the sub-county headquarters, on a white-tiled block the names of 44 people that died during an attack by the LRA on an internally-displaced persons’ camp there on 29 April 2004 are listed on a plaque (the LRA’s massacre, and other experiences are documented in JRP’s 2014 field note, “Forgotten Victims: Recounting Atrocities Committed in Odek sub-county by the LRA and NRA”). Clan chief Rwot Ocan Jimmy Luwala of Puranga and Gulu District Council Speaker, Okello Douglas Peter Okao, joined the community, survivors and relatives of the victims to officially launch this monument on 2 December 2015.
A week later, on 8 December, Burcoro Primary School – the scene of the NRA’s 1991 operation – also hosted community members, survivors and relatives to launch a monument in the shape of a tree for their experiences. The tree symbolizes the community’s experiences, in particular the place where a man called Kapere Alfoncio, who was accused of being a rebel, was shot and killed by fire squad on the final days of the operation. The launch of the monument was also used to share JRP’s field note “The Beasts at Burcoro”, which recounts events that took place, with the community.
Following a blessing of the monument by religious leaders in Burcoro, Resident District Commissioner (RDC) for Gulu, Okot Lapolo, received a memorandum from the Burcoro 1991 Military Operation Survivors Association addressed to Ugandan president, Yoweri Museveni, and calling for support. The RDC promised to deliver it to the president and to remind him about pledges he made in 2011 to provide compensation.
Now that both communities have their experiences documented and have monuments in place, they plan to host memorial prayers at their respective monument sites in the future to commemorate the events.
“Many people were thinking that their plight was not known but now they feel relieved,” a survivor of the Burcoro incident told me, “What was disturbing was the [fear that because the Burcoro incident was state-led] that if you exposed yourself as a victim, you may be in trouble.”
See pictures of both launches on JRP’s Facebook page.
Oryem Nyeko is the Communications and Advocacy Team Leader at JRP.